For decades, Americans celebrated a joyous tradition known as Christmas. Like the carol, it could last 12 days. Or, for people with less, only one.
But that was not enough for a nation of too much.
We went and supersized Christmas, so it became CHRISTMAS, a mind-set, the savior of the economy's fourth quarter, a Big Gulp of a festival onto itself.
It became necessary to create ancillary holidays, an Advent calendar of consumption, to build up to the day celebrated at home and not the mall. (Pretty soon, I fear, retailers will open their doors and ruin Dec. 25, too. If you are one, please forget you just read this.)
Black Friday, a phrase credited to Philadelphia police but having more to do with gridlock than sales, transformed into the lodestar of shopping. It became a contact sport and, at times, a bloody one, its own fractious YouTube channel. Last month, at the Franklin Mills Mall, stun guns entered the equation because nothing says the holidays like a little shock to the system.
Black Friday begot Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday. (Why not Getting Thursday?) This year, there was g-force pressure to ramp up these trumped-up holidays because of the truncated shopping season due to a late Thanksgiving, an accident of the calendar mourned by retailers as though it were the crash of the Hindenburg.
Mind you, this "shortened" season, in a time when people can shop every second of their waking lives wearing only a Duck Dynasty T-shirt, is a lengthy 26 days. Actually, 27 if you consider the contemptible debut of Thanksgiving shopping, which we would prefer not to. This is a sordid attempt to destroy one of the last great holidays that is honored with fork, rather than credit card, in hand.
The pressure to shop, to consume, to make businesses merry and bright during the final weeks of the year accounted for a fifth of last year's retail receipts. The push to buy suggests a seriously askew dependence on consumers' willingness to binge at year's end, which isn't easy given the glut of bad taste, assaulting all senses, often at once.
Like an aunt prone to too much perfume, the holiday comes with a potpourri of aggressive scents, pine, cinnamon, cranberry, cookie, and merry marshmallow.
I wish I was making this up. I am not.
The season has its own flavors, the time when the latte calendar flips from pumpkin to peppermint, gingerbread, egg nog, and white chocolate, the last two particularly egregious. Egg nog has no business being in coffee, let alone at a successful party, while white chocolate is perhaps the leading example of civilization's excess and decline, the utter ruination of something that was already perfection. And it's not even chocolate.
So far, I am happy to report, there is no fruitcake latte.
We can date the moment when Christmas was supersized to a decade ago, 2003 to be exact, when B101 started playing holiday music nonstop forever and ever, hallelujah, this year beginning a week before Thanksgiving. The station has no problem building a 10,000-song seasonal catalog, since everyone from the New York Giants to Duck Dynasty (Duck the Halls) has recorded Christmas albums, as sure a barometer of celebrity as an inappropriately aged paramour.
Christmas has been very good to B101. "It's sort of like our Super Bowl," said program director Chuck Knight. During the season, the station's weekly ratings almost double to an astounding three million, and attract listeners of all ages.
So Christmas is not only B101's Super Bowl, but its Christmas, too. But why stop with one station? Three years ago, WOGL also went all-Christmas.
Television will not be outdone by our lengthy season of excess. Fox News hosts its annual rant about the terrifying War on Christmas (with interactive map!). Multiple channels bombard us with holiday movies, some of dubious quality, not only It's a Wonderful Life and White Christmas but the Hallmark Channel's It's Christmas, Carol! (Carrie Fisher and Queer Eye's Carson Kressley). Who needs singers or actors or talent when it's the holidays?
Like so many egg nog lattes and the Duck Dynasty tchotchke, this mercantile miracle comes but once a year, showering us with too much of everything. 'Tis that season, deck those halls with bouts of folly.